Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.
Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 school in every state, Washington, DC, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Contest Structures and Awards
Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level. Winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals.
Students and judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, overall performance, and recitation accuracy.
Consider the student’s body language and stage presence.
The student should be poised—but not artificially so—projecting ease and confidence by his or her physical presence. This is an important category, but also one of the easiest to rate. A weaker performance may be one in which the student displays nervous gestures or appears stiff and uncomfortable with the audience.
VOICE AND ARTICULATION
Consider the student’s volume, pace, intonation, rhythm, and proper pronunciation.
The student should be clear and loud enough to capture the audience’s attention, but watch out for students who mistake projection for yelling or communicate passion by shouting. Any changes in tone should be appropriate to the subject matter. Students should proceed at a fitting and natural pace, not speaking too quickly from nervousness. Students should correctly pronounce every word in the poem. With rhymed poems, or with poems with a regular meter, students should be careful to not fall into a singsong rhythm. Decide if the pauses come in suitable places for the poem. A recitation that is mumbling, inaudible, or monotone will obscure a poem’s meaning for the audience.
Consider whether the student’s interpretative and performance choices enhance the audience’s understanding and enjoyment of the poem without overshadowing the poem’s language.
This category evaluates the interpretive and performance choices made by the student. A strong recitation will rely on a powerful internalization of the poem rather than distracting gestures or unnecessary emoting. The videos of student recitations available at poetryoutloud.org and on our Poetry Out Loud YouTube channel will help illustrate this point. Low scores in this category
should result from recitations that have an affected pitch, character voices, singing, inappropriate tone, distracting or excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.
EVIDENCE OF UNDERSTANDING
Consider the student’s use of intonation, emphasis, tone, and style of delivery.
“Evidence of understanding” measures a student’s comprehension and mastery of a poem. How well does the student interpret the poem for the audience? Does the student make difficult lines clearer? Does the student communicate the correct tone of the poem—angst, dry humor, ambivalence? The poet’s words should take precedence, and the student who understands the poem best will be able to voice it in a way that helps the audience to understand the poem better. Students should demonstrate that they know the meaning of every line and every word of the poem through the way these elements are handled. In a strong recitation, the meaning of the poem will be powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience. The student will offer an interpretation that deepens and enlivens the poem. Meaning, messages, allusions, irony, shifts of tone, and other nuances will be captured by the performance. A great performer may even make the audience see a poem in a new way. A low score should be awarded if the interpretation obscures the meaning of the poem.
Consider whether the student’s physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, and evidence of understanding all seem on target and unified to breathe life into the poem.
“Overall performance” is worth a bit more than other categories, with the value up to nine points. This category evaluates the total success of the performance, the degree to which the recitation has become more than the sum of its parts. Has the student captivated their audience with the language of the poem? Did the student bring the audience to a better understanding of the poem?
Use this score to measure how impressed you were by the recitation, and whether the recitation has honored the poem. You may also consider the diversity of a student’s recitations with this score. If a student seems to be stuck using the same style of delivery with each of their poems, that may be evidence that they’ve not taken the time to consider each poem individually. In addition to range, judges should consider the complexity of the poem, which is a combination of its content, language, and length—bearing in mind that a longer poem is not necessarily a more complex one. A low score should be awarded for recitations that are poorly presented, ineffective in conveying the meaning of the poem, or conveyed in a manner inappropriate to the poem.